Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Told as memories of an old man tying up loose ends in preparation for the end of his life, this book is a story of friendship, loyalty, pride, and honor.

Mixed-race teen Philip Hutton doesn't feel he fits in anywhere - with his full-English siblings and father, with his full-Chinese relatives, or anywhere else on the island of Penang. Then, a raw, strong connection forms with the Japanese diplomat who's renting land from Philip's father; a friendship that will define the rest of his life.

Similar in tone to "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," the book is written with poetic language and florid descriptions of a culture, sites, and lifestyle that are truly foreign to most westerners. The author works hard to illustrate the traditions of honor and face that are so important to the characters, to show how they influence every decision they make.

I enjoyed the book, but it's not a fast read. Several times I went to the internet to look up maps, objects and even words for a better, more thorough understanding of the book. (Book club is discussing this one tonight, and I'm curious to see what they thought.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

I couldn't resist a book about a teenage library page ... especially since she's working at a materials repository (rather than a book repository) that has a collection of magical items collected by those famous Grimm Brothers!

I *loved* this book: It's got suspense, magic, mystery and lots of the unexpected. I absolutely did NOT know what would happen next, or how - and that's really rare. I anxiously read along, wondering upon wondering what would happen next and who would be behind the strange happenings in Elizabeth's library.

Although it's positioned as a teen book, there's no reason middle schoolers or even mature readers younger than that wouldn't enjoy it too; there's no gore, only a bit of chaste teen romance, and a plot that moves things right along.

I can't find anywhere that says it's the first in a series, but I hope it is. And I can see how it might be!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics by Michael Heatley & Frank Hopkinson

This little book of stories brings lots of speculation, historical facts, and performer interviews together to search out the "true" stories behind the girls/women who inspired famous songs.

It's a fascinating pick-it-up-and-put-it-down kind of read: each chapter is no more than 4 of the undersized pages. But the authors assume you know these songs and lyrics already - too rarely are lyrics quoted directly. I suppose it would have been a licensing nightmare to get the permission to do that for all the songs mentioned, but it would have been extremely helpful.

As it was, I spent a lot of time reading some, dropping the book, and then getting lost on the internet doing more research. Overall a fun book - but just a start to your education, if you're really interested in music.

Monday, February 14, 2011

God is in the Pancakes by Robin Epstein

Smart-ass 15-year old candy striper Grace has met her match with smart-ass nursing home resident Mr. Sands. She probably should have been fired after she busted him out and they went to a movie. But when he asks Grace to help him kill himself rather than be further ravaged by Lou Gehrig's disease, she's got a big choice to make.

Without being heavy-handed, this is a great book that deals with belief, morality, and ethics. I think it would be a great book for a family read or a teen book discussion - there's a lot to ponder. Even Grace acknowledges she's not sure what she would do, looking back or in the future.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sports From Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition by Rick Reilly

Can't you just see the pitch meeting for this book? "OK, you give me an advance, and I'll travel the world looking for the most idiotic sports I can find. And I'll try them all!" Sure, Rick, sure.

It's a truly funny book - Reilly's got a flair for metaphor and simile. His florid descriptions alone are worth the time. And he does find some amazing competitions: the rock-paper-scissors championship, an illegal lawn dart tournament, a single take-your-life-in-your-hands golf hole.

I'm not much for sports, but this book was really, really good and I've recommended it a bunch already. Sauna-sitting, anyone?

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex

What if you're made a vampire on accident? And what if, contrary to popular belief, you find vampirism doesn't make you handsome, mysterious and attractive? Chubby 15-year-old science fiction geek Doug Lee is finding these things out.

This book had great promise, but ultimately I felt unsatisfied. It's trying to change things up and poke fun at several pop culture touchstones ... but I was just alternately bored or confused.

It's an OK book, just not great. Lots of teen angst, and the substory about the Indian exchange student had promise as its own full-blown book. But it was a bit hit-or-miss overall, and I'm still not sure I understand what exactly Victor the wolf/vampire really was.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Fans of short stories and six-word memoirs will love the idea behind this novel told through dictionary entries. Over the course of these assembled brief entries the reader views the profile of a relationship - from first date through moving in, from lazy days to missing toothpaste caps, through the affair and the breakup (or is it?).

It's an interesting arrangement because you never know in whose voice the entry speaks or at what point in time it's concerning. Details emerge as the alphabet rolls on, sometimes repeating or doubling back for another look at some significant event. Because a lot is left up to the reader's imagination, it's easy to internalize the story by drawing your own life and loves into the narrative framework.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Winter Concert by Yuko Takao

Music adds color to a black-and-white world, and that color spreads as we carry the music with us into the world. Perhaps it's a big topic for a small picture book, but WOW is this book awesome!

The simple art is amazingly rich with details, and the swirling pointillist color of the music employs all the senses in the audience's aural enjoyment. Don't I sound like an art critic? :)

Trust me. Genius!